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Create your own custom Windows Vista Control Panel

Windows Vista's Control Panel, while containing plenty of tools, can be cumbersome to navigate. Greg Shultz shows you can create your own custom Control Panel and simplify navigation so you find what you need.

Windows Vista's Control Panel is chock full of specialized tools that are used to maintain, adjust, and tweak the way that Vista behaves. The default view of the Control Panel is called Control Panel Home and is basically arranged in a Category View. Unfortunately, these categories don't have the most intuitive names, and many tools are buried beneath several layers, making them not only difficult to find but time-consuming to access.

To keep the old-school Windows users happy, Microsoft allows you to switch back to the Classic View, in which all the Control Panel's tools are visible. However, this can also make it difficult to find what you need, because there are so many icons to sort through.

A new feature has been added to the Vista Control Panel to make it easier to find what you're looking for -- it is the ability to search for a specific tool in the Control Panel. You just type the name of the tool in the Search box in the upper-right corner of the Control Panel and the tool will bubble up to the top of the window. While this is a very nice feature, it does require that you know the name of the tool you're looking for. Not a major inconvenience by any means, but it can still be a hindrance.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were an option that would allow you to reconfigure the Control Panel so that it would just show you those tools that you use on a regular basis?

While there isn't such an option built in to Vista, there is a way you can create your own custom Control Panel. In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you several techniques you can use to create your own custom Control Panel.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic Download.

Creating a folder

You'll use a standard folder in order to create your custom Control Panel. Right-click on the Start button and select Explore. When Explorer opens the Start Menu folder, as shown in Figure A, double-click the Programs folder. Once the Programs folder opens, pull down the Organize menu and select the New Folder command. Then, name the new folder My Control Panel or something more to your liking.

Figure A

When you select Explore from the Start button's context menu, the Start Menu folder opens.

Now, right-click your new My Control Panel folder, select the Properties command, choose the Customize tab, and click the Change Icon button in the Folder Icons panel. When the Change Icon dialog box appears, select an icon that will differentiate this folder from all the rest on the Start menu.

Now, drag your new My Control Panel folder from the Programs folder and hover over the Start button. When the Start menu opens, drag your new My Control Panel folder and drop it at the very top of the Start menu, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Placing you custom Control Panel at the top of the Start menu makes it very easy to locate.

Populating your Control Panel

At this point, you're ready to add tools to your custom Control Panel. To do so, open your new My Control Panel folder from the Start menu. Then, open the original Control Panel and select Classic View. Now, just drag and drop the tools that you use most frequently from the original Control Panel to your new My Control Panel folder. As you do, Vista will create shortcuts to the tools. When it does so, Vista will append "- Shortcut" to each name. Of course, you can just delete that extension and rename the shortcut to whatever you wish. When you're done, close both your new My Control Panel folder and the original Control Panel.

Now, when you need to use your favorite tool, just click Start button and select the My Control Panel icon. You'll then be able to quickly access your favorite tools without any aggravation.

Using Control Panel command-line shortcuts

In most cases, using drag and drop to create shortcuts in your custom Control Panel folder will suffice. However, as you know, in Vista's Classic View Control Panel, many tools are nested or buried inside other tools. For example, in order to get to Display Settings, you first have to open Personalization. Fortunately, some of the old Control Panel command-line shortcuts still exist in Vista, and you can use them in your custom Control Panel to cut out some of the extra steps.

Many of Vista's Control Panel tools are found in CPL files in the Windows\System32 folder. Using the Control Panel command-line shortcuts, you can launch any of these CPL files using a command formatted as follows:

control tool.cpl

Where tool is any Control Panel tool on your system that still has a CPL file in the Windows\System32 folder.

You can make any tool that has multiple tabs even more targeted by adding a parameter that allows you to not only open a specific tool but to specify which tab you want to select. To do so, you use a command formatted as follows:

control tool.cpl,,#

Where # is the number of the tab you want to select.

The most useful of these types of Control Panel command-line shortcuts are listed in Table A.

Table A

Category

Tab

Shortcut

Personalization Display Settings desk.cpl
  Desktop Icon Settings control desk.cpl,,0
  Screen Saver Settings desk.cpl,,1
  Appearance Settings desk.cpl,,2
System Properties Computer Name sysdm.cpl
  Hardware sysdm.cpl,,2
  Advanced sysdm.cpl,,3
  System Protection sysdm.cpl,,4
  Remote sysdm.cpl,,5
Internet Properties General inetcpl.cpl
  Security inetcpl.cpl,,1
  Privacy inetcpl.cpl,,2
  Content inetcpl.cpl,,3
  Connections inetcpl.cpl,,4
  Programs inetcpl.cpl,,5
  Advanced inetcpl.cpl,,6
Mouse Properties Buttons main.cpl
  Pointers main.cpl,,1
  Pointer Options main.cpl,,2
  Wheel main.cpl,,3
  Hardware main.cpl,,4
Regional and Language Options Formats intl.cpl
  Location intl.cpl,,1
  Keyboards and Languages intl.cpl,,2
  Administrative intl.cpl,,3
Sound Playback mmsys.cpl
  Recording mmsys.cpl,,1
  Sounds mmsys.cpl,,2

What do you think?

What's your take on Vista's Control Panel? Do you like it as it is? Will you simplify it with the custom Control Panel technique?

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

15 comments
polocanada
polocanada

Running RunDll32.exe USER32.DLL,SwapMouseButton will swap buttons, but same doesn't apply to other functions in main.cpl.

polocanada
polocanada

Very good! But there small difference on my Vista. I don't need to use 2 commas. Just one. For istance: control tool.cpl,# opens the specific tab. Not 2 commas. Furthermore. I am looking for tips on how to make adjustments to the CP applets without even opening them. For instance, I want change mouse pointer speed and precission control without opening the panel. That's a battle every time I start windows. Background: I use Logitec mouse, Khalmnpr.exe is Logitech driver and it resets mouse settings at each reboot. Some suggestions are to disable khalmnpr.exe at startup. I can't, need it for advanced mouse control. Run file to merge desired registry setting in "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Mouse" and change the mousesensitivity and mousespeed settings and the flash registry by logoff or force-end explorer and restart in CTRL+ALT+DEL method. But this method doesn't work for me. Another way would be to run a VB or a similar script (like it is with www.vistaaudiochanger.com to change your Audio source). But this is not a very elegant solution. Has Microsoft really included no commands with the CP aplets?? Strange. So I am on search of commandline arguments that allow me to do just that and without even having to open the control panel aplet. But this article is a good start. Thanks.

pklemz
pklemz

Well, it's a handy article. The concept is good, but you left out the most important aspect ... how do you get the cmd-line enties into the folder? I know how to go to a DOS window and enter them, but how do I create a file or what-ever you create to put that in the control panel folder?

paulwillfixit
paulwillfixit

I agree that the Vista control panel is a pain in the arse. However, there are two reasons why you should consider learning the new layout: 1 If you ever need to help someone else or if you change to another PC, you will be able to navigate the CP quickly. 2 When the next version of Windows comes out you will be able to adapt to it's CP faster. If we all try to make our workstations controls the same as the first Windows version we were familiar with then nobody will improve their knowledge. I assume that Microsoft have done some actual thinking about the most logical way to organise the CP - the main reason we disagree is that we are just used to having it another way. That said, I'm now going to customise the hell out of the CP!

arorabhupinder
arorabhupinder

its realy nice and i found it very useful !!!! THANKS!!!!

jenak3769
jenak3769

I really haven't ha any trouble with locating tools and wht nots with Vista , I learned very early a long time ago about searching using explorer and I really do not see the problem peoplear ehaving with vista in reality is youlet windows do the settings for best performance and with a goo gb hard drive and lots and lots of ram , you can't have enough ram with vista was my solution and if you are at least dual core it is very stable and best advice is do not monkey with it by all this so called fix it remedies that are offered to diconnect this and disable that and never turn of uac or defender adjust virus protection to work with it not against it and most or all blue screens will disappear ,, so I do not see this monkey around devising a new control panel when the existing one is so easy , in fact vista is a million times easier than any XP os and works faster and better than any xp so people dump xp and go vista , uncle billy has most of the bugs out with sp1 just watch that any new programs are vista ready and if they do not run properly simple un install them and find one that does run properly Ian

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What's your take on Vista's Control Panel? Do you like it as it is? Will you simplify it with the custom Control Panel technique?

polocanada
polocanada

And now I am stuck. Any gurus here around?

Ron_007
Ron_007

simple answer, just create a batch file, *.BAT. with the text of your command(s) in it. "Ancient" skill, but still useful.

Craig_B
Craig_B

Thanks for the article, it nice to learn different ways to do things, that way you can choose what works best for you. I think on a home machine this is a good tip however in the corporate world I think it's best just to use the standard methods.

Craig_B
Craig_B

Thanks for the article, it nice to learn different ways to do things, that way you can choose what works best for you. I think on a home machine this is a good tip however in the corporate world I think it's best just to use the standard methods.

polocanada
polocanada

OK, there seems me be nothing you can do with CPL applets. So only option seems to be making VB scribpts that write the information to registry. Anyway, this might be useful.. shortcut to mouse speed settings : C:\Windows\System32\rundll32.exe SHELL32.dll,Control_RunDLL main.cpl @0,2

wescrook
wescrook

a SpudChucker! All jokes aside, I've found the easiest thing to do is set the control panel to menu format on the start menu. They are all right there, already in classic view, and if you don't know what you're looking for, you shouldn't be in IT. Besides, I've memorized the most recently used ones and just do a Win+R (Start/Run). Appwiz.cpl, mmsys.cpl, powercfg.cpl, etc. And once I've used them once in the Run command, I can get to them in 3 or 4 keystrokes. MUCH faster than anything else.